Forward Genetic Analysis Using OCT Screening Identifies Sfxn3 Mutations Leading to Progressive Outer Retinal Degeneration in Mice

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jun 9;117(23):12931-12942. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1921224117. Epub 2020 May 26.

Abstract

Retinal disease and loss of vision can result from any disruption of the complex pathways controlling retinal development and homeostasis. Forward genetics provides an excellent tool to find, in an unbiased manner, genes that are essential to these processes. Using N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea mutagenesis in mice in combination with a screening protocol using optical coherence tomography (OCT) and automated meiotic mapping, we identified 11 mutations presumably causative of retinal phenotypes in genes previously known to be essential for retinal integrity. In addition, we found multiple statistically significant gene-phenotype associations that have not been reported previously and decided to target one of these genes, Sfxn3 (encoding sideroflexin-3), using CRISPR/Cas9 technology. We demonstrate, using OCT, light microscopy, and electroretinography, that two Sfxn3 -/- mouse lines developed progressive and severe outer retinal degeneration. Electron microscopy showed thinning of the retinal pigment epithelium and disruption of the external limiting membrane. Using single-cell RNA sequencing of retinal cells isolated from C57BL/6J mice, we demonstrate that Sfxn3 is expressed in several bipolar cell subtypes, retinal ganglion cells, and some amacrine cell subtypes but not significantly in Müller cells or photoreceptors. In situ hybridization confirmed these findings. Furthermore, pathway analysis suggests that Sfxn3 may be associated with synaptic homeostasis. Importantly, electron microscopy analysis showed disruption of synapses and synaptic ribbons in the outer plexiform layer of Sfxn3 -/- mice. Our work describes a previously unknown requirement for Sfxn3 in retinal function.

Keywords: CRISPR; ENU mutagenesis; Sfxn3; forward genetics; retinal degeneration.